With World Youth Day well underway, Archbishop John Wilson, the Archbishop of Southwark, was invited by the Emmanuel Community to speak at ‘Night Fever’ in Alameda Park in Lisbon on 3 August.
The event offered an opportunity for hundreds of young people to encounter Jesus through praise, testimonies, Adoration and Confession.
Dear brothers and sisters, good evening! Good evening. It is great to see you, and it is such a joy to be here in Lisbon for World Youth Day 2023. And it is especially a joy to be here together for this night of mercy. Thank you to the Emmanuel Community for arranging this and for inviting us to such a great gift.
I am so happy to be here, and I’m happy to be here with you. Maybe just turn to the person next to you and say, “I am happy you are here.”
Dear friends, the most important words I can say to you this evening are these: The Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, is calling you. And He is calling you to meet Him, to know Him and to love Him. He is calling you to be strengthened by Him to serve others.
Tonight, dear friends, we receive a royal summons from a mighty king, the Lord Jesus. He invites you into his presence. He calls you personally by name. Do you believe this? He calls you not at some point in the future, he calls you not when you think your life is perfect. No. He calls you tonight – now – to encounter the love of His Sacred Heart and the healing of His divine mercy.
Now, can you tell from my accent I am from England? And I am from the most important part of England. It’s called Yorkshire. Now, when I was a little boy, I went to visit my grandparents’ house and I stepped outside the door and a dog ran up and bit me on the leg. And he had very sharp teeth, and the blood began to flow out. And my grandmother took me to the hospital and they cleaned my wounds and they injected me with antibiotics and tetanus. Now, I was only a little boy, but I was very brave. And because I was so brave, my grandmother took me for a treat.
Can you guess what it was? Ice cream! It was an enormous ice cream full of fruit and chocolate. It was in the tallest glass I had ever seen in my life. I forgot the dog, I forgot the bite, and along with the ice cream’s wonderful taste, I was given a very, very long spoon. Now, if I had had a little spoon, I could have eaten the top of the ice cream, but with the long spoon, I could go deeper. I could go down to the chocolate sauce – the sweetest part.
Dear friends, we are called to greatness. You are called to greatness in the Christian life. You are called not to live on the surface, but to go deep – deep into the heart of Jesus. To go deep into what it means to be a disciple. To go deep into living the Gospel as a witness to Christ. You were not created to be nourished by little spoons, living on the surface, living superficially, without purpose, without meaning. In the words of the great English Cardinal and Saint, John Henry Newman, you were created for some definite purpose.
You have a mission, you have a call, and it is unique to you. Our life of faith, and that of ongoing conversion, is like the long spoon. Faith takes us deeper into the meaning of our existence where our life makes sense with Christ, in relationship with Him. Why? Because he is sweetness for your soul in His love and in His mercy.
I have to say, you are a fabulous sight this evening, and it is so important when we gather like this to take a good look around you – especially behind you. Take in all these beautiful people. We are an image of the Church. Beautiful in our diversity, united in our faithfulness to Christ. Now, let me tell you that without exception, there is a place for everyone in the Church. But each of us will be in a unique place in our journey of discipleship. Now, some of you may already have friendship with the Lord Jesus. You may know Him and speak to Him from your heart. He may have touched your life and is changing you. Some of you may know about the Lord Jesus and about His love. But perhaps you’re a little bit unsure. Some of you will not have a strong sense of the Lord Jesus, but you want one. You’re attracted by His love and by His mercy.
So, dear friends, wherever you are in your faith, the Lord Jesus is calling you to take a next step, a new step, a deeper step. Are you ready for this? Are you sure? Reading the Gospels page after page, we meet people who were called by Christ, first, to make an act of faith and an act of trust. To open themselves more fully and more deeply to His love and mercy. The biggest journey we have to make is from our head knowledge to our heart knowledge. Down the centuries, all the saints have used the long spoon to find the sweetness of Christ. And the question is, will you? Will you live superficially or do you want to go deeper? This is the question.
My friends, the Holy Spirit is here amongst us. The Lord Jesus is calling you to deeper relationship with Him because He is alive. He is alive in the world, He is alive in the Church, He is alive in you, by the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus is here for you in his sacraments and in His word. The Lord Jesus is calling you, will you respond?
Now, this evening there are two beautiful ways in which you can open your heart to Christ, in which you can go deeper. The first is Eucharistic Adoration and the second is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So I’m going to say a word about each of those, my friends. The night before He died, when He died on the cross for us, the Lord Jesus gathered his friends in the Upper Room and he gave to the Church, through them, through the apostles, the gift of the Eucharist. And we know what the Lord Jesus said, don’t we? The Lord Jesus took the bread and he said, say it with me, “This is my body.” The Lord Jesus took a cup of wine and he said, say it with me, “This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Now listen, either the Lord Jesus was telling the truth or He was telling a lie. But He is the truth, the way and the life. When He said “this is my body”, He meant it. When He said “this is my blood”, He meant it. And we believe him. We take Him at his word at the celebration of the Holy Mass, the bread does become the body of the Lord Jesus, and the wine does become the blood of the Lord Jesus, because our Lord and our God becomes present in the Blessed Sacrament. Really and truly, this is the truth at the heart of our faith. The real, true and living presence of Christ means He is with us. He is with us in the Mass. He is with us in all the tabernacles of our churches. He is with us in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in Eucharistic Adoration. Tonight, when the Body of Christ is placed before us, we really meet the Saviour of the world. We can speak to Him. You can speak to Him from your heart. He is with us as He was with his disciples.
In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, here in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament, is the sweetness that God intends us to find. So my friends, if you are familiar with Adoration of the Eucharist, beautiful. If you are less familiar, beautiful. Tonight, all of us are invited to pray before our Eucharistic Lord. And we begin by making acts of faith. When you see the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, this evening. Say in your heart, “Lord Jesus, I believe in you.” Say in your heart, “Lord Jesus, I believe that you see me.” Say in your heart, “Lord Jesus, I believe that you hear me. Lord Jesus, I believe that you love me.” And then share with the Lord what’s happening in your life. He loves you, He knows you. He’s interested in the details of your life. He wants you to share His life. So tell Him your joys. Tell Him what it’s like to be you. Tell him where you struggle. Ask Him for what you need. Ask Him to help you know what to take to confession. Bring to Him the needs of others. Thank him for his blessings. But before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, at a certain point we need to fall silent, to be silent, to close our eyes and let Christ love us, to open our eyes and to adore Him with eucharistic amazement and in silence before the presence of Christ, to hear Him speak the silent language of His love.
Before I became a bishop, I worked in a parish in the north of England in a great city called Bradford, and I celebrated Mass on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. And as we processed the Blessed Sacrament around the Church, people began to kneel down, and some of the oldest parishioners, in their seventies and eighties, knelt on the floor before Christ, who was passing by. And they were so faithfully believing that this is Jesus, their heads touched the floor. Do we have faith like this? Because, believe me, you are the next generation of Eucharistic witnesses. The Church needs you. Your parishes and dioceses need you. Christ needs you. In Eucharistic adoration, we believe the Lord Jesus is with us. Just let Him love you. Don’t worry how complicated your life is. Don’t worry that you’re not perfect. Let Jesus into your life and let Him love you. Become still and silent and receive from Him.
Now, the second beautiful way to allow Christ’s presence to touch your heart is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession. Now, a few years ago, I gave a talk to a group of teenagers about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and I was trying to encourage them and to help them to feel that they shouldn’t be afraid. And they all sat round me on the floor. So I said, “Listen, put your hand up if you like going to Confession.” I said it to this group, and no one put their hand up. So I said to them, well, maybe people who like going to Confession, maybe there’s something a little bit wrong with them. And then the boy behind me with his hand up said, “but Father, I like going to Confession.” So all of you put your hands up, please. Again, those of you like going to confession, just stand up and be witnesses to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Come on, stand up, be a witness. You put your hand up, so stand up. Stand up. Because we believe in the power of mercy, we believe in the power of absolution, of sin, that all our sins are forgiven when we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and we together, and all of us here are witnesses to the power of mercy. Please take a seat.
I sometimes ask people what they think the opposite of sin is. I mean, just say to the person next to you, what do you think is the opposite of sin? Now, people give all kinds of different answers, and of course, the opposite of sin is forgiveness, the opposite of sin is goodness. The opposite of sin is a virtuous life. But listen, in a sense, the real opposite of sin is faith. Faith. Faith in God who loves you. Faith in God, the Father of mercies, who through His only Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, not only can forgive you, but wants to forgive you. We believe in a God of mercy, a God who waits for us, who longs for us to be forgiven. We believe that Christ is the face of mercy. We believe that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, mercy is revealed to us.
Now listen, we can all have lots of questions about this sacrament. We can find lots of reasons for not going to Confession. What will the priest think? Any of you worry about this question? What will the priest think? Let me tell you what the priest will think. The priest will think, “thank God, thank God that this person has come to receive mercy.” That’s all the priest will think. That’s all he’ll think.
What if it’s a long time since you’ve been to Confession? What if it’s a long time? Listen, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you come now, that you don’t wait any longer. What if you don’t know what to say? Well, ask the priest to help you. He’ll guide you. He’ll lead you through this beautiful sacrament of healing.
What if you can’t remember all your sins? Well, first of all, just do your best to remember the sins that you can. And know that when you receive absolution, it is absolute. Your sins are forgiven, all the sins you bring to that sacrament.
What if you keep confessing the same sins? Well, thank God you’ve not discovered any new ones. Be courageous. Listen, I could go on, but I won’t. Please put your fears aside. Accept the Lord’s call to you tonight to repentance and conversion – no matter what your sins are, no matter how long ago since you went to Confession. Come in humility, come in honesty. God wants to forgive you because He loves you. Saint Therese of Lisieux, the great Saint Therese of Lisieux, once wrote beautifully, “for those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask His pardon. Jesus trembles with joy.” Make your Confession tonight so that Jesus can tremble with joy.
Dear friends, you are called to greatness. Don’t just live with a little spoon. Don’t just scoop the surface of life, or the surface of faith, go deeper to the sweetness of God’s presence and His love and His mercy. Do not be afraid of the world or yourself. The Lord is with you. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World is calling you to enter more deeply into His friendship to meet Him tonight in Eucharistic Adoration, to find forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So here’s the invitation, rise and say “yes!” Thank you very much.